So currently I’m recovering from being ill, as I caught something while at the Winter Fancy Food Show, which was one of the most intense experiences in my short food career.
Allow me to give you some setup. The Winter Fancy Food Show, which is hosted by National Association for the Specialty Food Trade, is the largest specialty food conference for members of the trade on the West Coast. It’s like take all those tasting booths at Costco, and filling multiple conference halls with them. Only they’re not serving frozen meatballs, more like Iberico ham and Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams. (There were probably meatballs somewhere, but I didn’t have any.) Oh, and they’re not using tiny metal tables – each brand has a sleek setup, often with the shiny gold and silver Sofi awards lined up in rows. And the people running these booths? CEOs, founders, and marketing executives.
The range of food was just staggering. There were freeze dried tangerines, boozy cranberries, quinoa everything. A fountain of barbecue sauce. I was rather impressed by Simpli’s oat shakes, the olive oil truffles Alice Medrich made, and treats like hibiscus mint ice pops and shortbread, but the full list of things that caught my eye is epic. It’s also an event where your stomach needs to be prepared for anything and everything, as the booths have order, but it’s generally not related to course or menu item. There would be chocolate sharing a border with freeze-dried tangerines, with cocktail mixers on the other side.
And this is going to probably sound odd, but eating amazing food all day is exhausting. (“There are people starving out there!” the non-profit student in me is groaning.) Yet that’s not just because of the food – you’re there to get questions answered, get connections, and decide, within a few bites, if you’re interested in that product. It’s a lot to jam into thirty seconds. You’re also trying to look presentable in all your awesomeness, because you literally don’t know who you’re going to bump into while talking to that person running the booth.
I literally almost crashed into Tom Douglas. That was awkward.
I at least ran into some people I knew, like Fran Bigelow, founder of Fran’s Chocolates, and got to meet her cousin Dorothy, who was equally awesome. I tried to convince CEO Andrina Bigelow that I should deep fry one of their chocolate turkeys for an article. She took that request with seriously huge levels of grace. Alice Medrich was there, with small bites of her delicious olive oil truffles. Herschell Taghap, Tom Douglas’s PR dude, was serving Rub with Love salmon, so I went and gave him a Seattle fist-bump.
It was amazing, and I’m still processing it all. Here’s my advice for next time to myself, and anyone going to the Summer Fancy Food Show:
They don’t let you bring rolling luggage inside the conference. Most shows I’ve attended are totally cool with luggage, so I didn’t double-check that tidbit, and ended up needing to check it. At $3/day, it was a relatively minor annoyance, but one that can be avoided.
Get the closest hotel room you can to the show. I like walking in Seattle, yet San Francisco blocks are long, and longer still after nine hours of conference walking. Do yourself a favor and book at the Four Seasons or something.
Bring a team. You need 2-3 people there, at a minimum, to fully take in the show. That way people can rotate, rest, do press work, and not feel like they’re in information overload.
Rest. This, and staying hydrated, are the two most important things. That and wearing comfy shoes. I wore sneakers the whole time, and am glad for it.
At the very end of the show, I ran into Duff Goldman of Ace of Cakes, who was walking around the show just for the day. He was wearing a well-loved backpack and walking with his PR rep. I got his card, took a photo with him, and then he asked what I recommended they check out.
I found myself speechless for a second, then recommended some chocolate and rice vendors in the back hall. I was excited, but I really just wanted a nap.